Students searching for intriguing topics and new perspectives should look no further than this semester’s student forums. For these forums, student leaders teach and lead discussions with their peers about topics they’re passionate about. Among the 11 offerings this spring, you’re sure to find something that captures your imagination.
Grant Morrison: Comic Book Writer/Rock Star/Wizard
Student Leader: Matthew Amylon ’14
Faculty Sponsor: Professor of English Sean McCann
When Matthew Amylon ’14 heard about “The Graphic Novel,” an advanced course offered by the English Department (in which he is a major), he was aggravated by its narrow view of the medium.
“They came at it with such an outsider perspective,” Amylon said. “Comics are an entire medium. Calling that class ‘The Graphic Novel’ is like naming a class ‘The Book’ or ‘The Movie.’”
Inspired partially by frustration and partially by his passion for the comic author Grant Morrison, Amylon decided to create his own forum that abides by his own standards and is structured like an English class. “It’ll be discussion-based, with a lot of reading and talking,” Amylon said. “My favorite classes in the English major are ones that focus on one or two authors and are very basic and specific.”
Amylon, who has admired Grant Morrison’s work for years, is devoting the course to six of his works spanning from 1988 to the present.
“We’ll be reading the first half of this series called ‘The Invisibles,’ which is what he was writing when he was taking a lot of drugs,” Amylon said. “It’s a really complicated and dense cosmological spy story, but it turns out to be much more about Eastern mysticism, the nature of the universe, and theoretical physics.”
Radio Storytelling: Crafting a Narrative Through Sound
Student Leaders: Rebecca Seidel ’15 and Aviva Hirsch ’16
Faculty Sponsor: Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology J. Kehaulani Kauanui
Seidel and Hirsch were members of WESU when they became involved with the formation of the Documentary Trolls, a radio storytelling collective affiliated with the University radio station. Soon, Seidel and Hirsch were both hooked on audio journalism. This semester, they will explore radio storytelling in a forum designed to look closely at sound and stories.
Hirsch explained that contemporary radio has become increasingly popular in the past couple of decades with such transformative figures as This American Life’s Ira Glass. Radio Storytelling will study both the growth of radio and its unique effects on audiences.
“We have some really great readings from accomplished producers, and in class we’ll be listening to a lot of people that [Seidel and I] listen to,” Hirsch said, who spent this past semester working on a series of radio stories in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Seidel added that Radio Storytelling will serve as an introduction to all aspects of audio journalism.
“We’re going to work on interviewing skills, production skills, ways to incorporate music into radio stories, and ways to get stories across,” she said.
Seidel and Hirsch said they are also eager to use their forum as a means for community involvement.
“We’ll be working with WESU, but we’ll also potentially collaborate with the College of the Environment, which is working on a podcast series that incorporates science into elementary education,” Hirsch said.
Moreover, Seidel explained that she and Hirsch hope to engage the larger University community in addition to the students enrolled in their class.
“We’re trying to get radio producers from the real world to come speak to our class and anybody else who’s interested,” she said.
Student Leader: Bryan Garrett-Farb [Trinity College ’15]
Faculty Sponsor: Professor of Philosophy and East Asian Studies Stephen Angle
“The central piece of the philosopher Alan Watts is a basic confusion between who we think we are and who we actually are,” Garrett-Farb said. “A lot of his philosophy — really his presentation of Daoism, Hinduism, and Zen Buddhism — hinges on the notion of the self.”
To that end, Garrett-Farb is leading a forum largely about the self; the class aims to explore the work of Alan Watts, a mid-century philosopher responsible for bringing Eastern philosophy to the West.
“His work is fascinating and has an enormous array of consequences for personal daily life and the entire way we think about the world,” Garrett-Farb said.
Along with reading Watts’ work, the class will be expected to practice meditation three times per week. The class will also practice together.
“We’ll explore a few different iterations of meditation, like chanting ‘ohm,’ or listening to a gong,” Garrett-Farb said. “Watts also recorded a few guided meditations, and we’re looking into bringing in other spiritual teachers.”
The class will consist of three major assignments: a journal that students will later turn into a reflection paper; an analytical paper applying Watts’ philosophy to a modern phenomenon; and a presentation of work not read in class.
“I hope it’ll become a personal class as well as an academic engagement,” Garrett-Farb said. “Talking about the self changes everything. Watts challenges all our assumptions. I don’t want it to be abstract. I want it to be something lived.”
Memoirs of Crisis: Writing Through Trauma
Student Leaders: Cade Leebron ’14 and Jenessa Duncombe ’14
Faculty Sponsor: Visiting Writer Clifford Chase
This semester, Leebron and Duncombe will revisit the forum that they taught in Fall 2012. Memoirs of Crisis is a writing class offered to students regardless of their writing or life experiences.
“We use a working definition of trauma as something that shakes foundation,” Leebron said. “Most people have had that.”
Leebron and Duncombe plan to alter the original syllabus slightly, adding readings not taught in 2012.
“We have many readings that aren’t very long; it’s 20 to 40 pages of reading per week,” Leebron said. “They’re very diverse in subject matter, tone, and style. [Duncombe and I] are very familiar with the readings, so we have a lot to say about them, but the students discuss them as much as we do.”
The class is structured as a workshop, so all students read and comment on each other’s writing. Because stories of trauma are intensely personal, Duncombe said she and Leebron take extra consideration for students’ comfort.
Leebron added that the nature of the assigned readings, as well as the fact that she and Duncombe share their own work, contributes to a spirit of sharing.
“Students feel more comfortable sharing because all the readings contain such personal material,” Leebron said. “[Duncombe and I] also write. They get to critique us; we’re not experts.”
Food Justice, Sustainability, and Sovereignty at Wesleyan and Beyond
Student Leaders: Noelle Hiam ’15 and Rachel Lindy ’15
Faculty Sponsor: Director of the College of the Environment and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program Barry Chernoff
Building upon Food Justice & Sustainability at Wesleyan and Beyond, taught last semester by Jennifer Roach ’14, Rachel Weisberg ’15, and Kathryn Hardt ’15, new leaders Hiam and Lindy plan to examine international factors as well as domestic ones as they relate to food justice, sustainability, and sovereignty.
“We’re trying to look at what’s currently wrong with our food system and how it impacts environmental, social justice, and animal rights issues,” Lindy said.
The pair plans to draw upon their recent study abroad experiences in Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. Hiam and Lindy were part of a program last semester that focused on food and energy in these locations, and they hope to lend a more international focus to the forum. The food sovereignty component is also new to the course.
“Food sovereignty is the right of people to choose how the food that they consume is produced, and it aims to connect producers and consumers in a more ecologically sustainable way,” Lindy said.
The forum will have both discussion and hands-on components, which might take the form of a guest lecture, foraging around campus for food, watching a TED talk, or working with on-campus groups such as Long Lane Farm or Middletown Urban Gardens. Hiam explained that students will be expected to get involved with a project related to food issues on campus or in Middletown.
“A critique from last semester’s leaders was that the students had a lot of knowledge, but didn’t change anything on campus; the class didn’t practice what it preached,” Hiam said. “We’re going to encourage people to do something that will have a lasting impact.”
Student Leaders: Vanessa Chen ’16 and Alecia Ng ’14
Faculty Sponsor: Adjunct Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures and East Asian Studies Xiaomiao Zhu
Chen and Ng taught Cantonese for Beginners last semester, and the course offered this semester is largely the same in terms of material covered. Chen and Ng will, however, use feedback from last semester to adjust their teaching style.
“The class will basically be more interactive and student-oriented,” Chen wrote in an email to the Argus. “It’s going to be similar to last semester but not exactly the same, since [Alecia and I] know what worked and what didn’t work from last semester.”
Unlearning Prejudice and Practicing Self-Love
Student Leaders: Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14 and Mimi Goldstein ’17
Faculty Sponsor: Chair of American Studies Department and Olin Professor of English Joel Pfister
Discussions surrounding social justice are common at Wesleyan, but Unlearning Prejudice and Practicing Self-Love intends to facilitate discussions around themes like white privilege in a classroom setting. In turn, students will feel comfortable openly discussing such issues in more casual environments.
Sanchez-Eppler said that the mission of the course is simply to discuss and ponder social justice issues that are not easily solved, considering issues through film and other cultural content.
“We’re trying to pull from all over the spectrum of different writers and theorists around this work, so that hopefully people with different sensibilities coming from very different places can grab onto it and feel like they connect with it,” Sanchez-Eppler said.
Throughout the course, students will practice reflective writing on the personal nature of these issues and also participate in workshops where they can share and learn from others’ writing.
“The hope really is that people will be moved to be agents of change in their daily lives. I think it’s something that a lot of people want, but are unsure of how to go about it,” Sanchez-Eppler said.
Goldstein feels that these conversations are vital for understanding and for attempting to make a difference.
The pair hopes that the course will culminate with the students attending the White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wis., in mid-March, where students can attend workshops that will teach them skills to discuss themes of harassment and repression and find solutions to combat them in daily situations.
Modern Feminism. Period.
Student Leaders: Lily Myers ’15 and Kate Weiner ’15
Faculty Sponsor: Chair of Sociology and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Mary Ann Clawson
After spending last semester abroad in Chile and Argentina, respectively, Myers and Weiner experienced firsthand some of the institutionalized sexism that occurs in countries around the world. The pair hopes to create a space in which students can talk about feminist issues that are both universal and local, particularly those present on campus.
“Feminism is something for everyone, and women’s issues are everyone’s issues,” Weiner said. “The course will remind students that feminism is not solely women’s domain.”
The pair plans to incorporate art, music, poetry, and spoken word poetry into their forum. One of their favorite books, “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran, will be prominently featured in the course, as well as poetry by slam poet Caroline Rothstein, a leading anti-body shaming activist. Some topics covered will include body hair, body shaming, and race and representation within feminism, radical homemaking, portrayals of women in the media, and the correlation between environmental awareness and feminism.
The mission for the course is mainly to open a dialogue about feminist issues, and to provide a space in which people can become comfortable discussing such matters.
“It would be really fun to have the forum culminate in this collective action that gets everyone on campus involved,” Weiner said.
WesDEF Training: Breaking Barriers through Facilitation
Student Leaders: Jessica Katzen ’16 and Alexandra Ricks ’16
Faculty Sponsor: Associate Professor of Sociology Jonathan Cutler
This course is taught every spring by WesDEFs (Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitators), who lead discussions about social justice, diversity and anti-oppression issues throughout the school year. Katzen and Ricks took the course last spring and this semester will lead the forum to train new members to be facilitators.
The course begins with basic facilitation skills, such as how to structure the workshops that WesDEF leads, how to engage with students, and how to respond to discussions.
Prior to spring break, the forum will occur in a usual classroom setting, but after spring break, the forum will instead expect the students to attend and become active participants at WesDEF meetings.
“We want to educate [the students] on different social justice issues and different forms of oppression, because we feel that [the goal of] WesDEF itself is to create safe spaces to discuss these issues,” Katzen said. “We hope that they become more informed members of society and ready to take action.”
Some issues that the course will cover include race, gender, sexuality, and ability.
“We mostly found readings from various social justice websites that we like, such as Sociological Images, Upworthy, and Buzzfeed,” Ricks said.
The final project of the forum is to run a campus-wide event with the help of another group and lead a discussion centered on topics like rape culture in Greek life.
Art and Science of Chemical Demonstrations
Student Leaders: Stuart Pasch ’14 and Caitlin Bray ’15
Faculty Sponsor: Associate Professor of Chemistry David Westmoreland
Every year during WesFest, a group of chemistry majors puts on a 45-minute demo presentation to excite prospective students about studying science at Wesleyan.
“It’s always been kind of semi-chaotic,” Pasch said.
Last spring, two students created the forum “Art and Science of Chemical Demonstrations” to not only explore how to teach science through demonstrations but also use that time and space to prepare for the presentations in April. As a result, last WesFest saw more numerous, organized, and smoother demos.
Pasch and Bray revived the forum this semester, gearing it towards current and prospective majors who have completed at least two years of chemistry classes. Despite the flashy, performance-heavy aspect of the demonstrations, Pasch said the projects require real scientific knowledge.
“This isn’t something you say, ‘Oh, I’ll just pick this up and do this,’” Pasch said. “It’s not like anything you’ve done. It’s not just teaching. It’s multitasking.”
Demonstrations include producing “gun cotton,” which results from changing the chemical composition of regular cotton into something explosive; where regular cotton burns slowly, gun cotton is set off by a mere match. Pasch said that demonstrations involving thermite, liquid nitrogen, and liquid oxygen are always well received.
The demonstrations hearken back to the demos that teachers use in high school classes, but which tend to disappear once students advance to college. Scientific demonstrations take theoretical knowledge one step further, putting them into practical use.
“It’s not lab work,” Bray said. “That’s the art component of it.”
Building Resilient Landscape Systems: The Intersection of Deep Ecology and Landscape Design
Student Leaders: Manon Lefevre ’14 and Will Wiebe ’14
Faculty Sponsor: Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Earth and Environmental Sciences Dana Royer
Almost as long as WILD Wes (Working for Intelligent Landscape Design at Wesleyan) has existed as a group, members have taught student forums on the issues and techniques that WILD Wes practices. Lefevre and Wiebe, both of whom have been involved with the group, are teaching Building Resilient Landscape Systems through the lens of landscape ecology, landscape architecture, permaculture, and other perspectives.
“Landscape design is very interdisciplinary, so we draw a variety of students from a variety of disciplines,” Lefevre said. “It’s a combination of design, science, and theory.”
Lefevre said they plan to bring in designers, biologists, ecologists, and other professors and professionals to lecture on specific topics including soil ecology, forest ecology, and even local flora of New England.
The forum features an intensive hands-on design aspect, which will require working on continuing design of the WestCo courtyard and social space, as well as planting and designing the Butterfields terrace garden.
“It’s rare that you have a student forum where you’re actually doing a hands-on project, which is what we’re offering: something more visible,” Lefevre said.